Although sediment dynamics exert a fundamental control on the character and distribution of reefs, data on sediment dynamics in mesophotic systems are scarce. In this study, sediment traps and benthic photo-transects were used to document spatial and temporal patterns of suspended-sediment and bed-load dynamics at two geomorphically distinct mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) on the upper insular slope of southwest Puerto Rico. Trap accumulation rates of suspended sediment were relatively low and spatiotemporally uniform, averaging < 1 mg cm−2 d−1 and never exceeding 3 mg cm−2 d−1 over the sampled period. In contrast, trap accumulation rates of downslope bed-load movement were orders of magnitude higher than suspendedsediment accumulation rates and highly variable, by orders of magnitude, both spatially and temporally. Percent sand cover within photo-transects varied over time from ~10% to more than 40% providing further evidence of downslope sediment movement. In general, the more exposed, lower gradient site had higher rates of downslope sediment movement, higher sand cover and lower coral cover than the more sheltered and steep site that exhibited lower rates of downslope sediment movement, lower sand cover and higher coral cover. In most cases, trap accumulation rates of suspended sediment and bed load varied together and peaks in trap accumulation rates correspond to peaks in SWAN-modeled wave-orbital velocities, suggesting that surface waves may influence sediment dynamics even in mesophotic settings. Though variable, off-shelf transport of sediment is a continuous process occurring even during non-storm conditions. Continuous downslope sediment movement in conjunction with degree of exposure to prevailing seas and slope geomorphology are proposed to exert an important influence on the character and distribution of insular-slope MCEs.
Overall benthic (groups)
SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)